Jeremy Latimer and the Joys of Writing

Well – here is my first journal entry, and for the first time, I have no idea of what I want to write.

Oh, the joys of writing!

Jeremy Latimer
‘The joy of writing never truly fades, it just changes direction from time to time.’

The whole experience has been a bit of a whirlwind affair, and the prospect of having a ‘completion date’ is daunting. It’s funny to think that I have dreamed of this experience all my life – and now that the opportunity is a reality … I am terrified.

I have had good feedback from my mentor, and I know her ideas and direction will strengthen my story, but I am still in awe of the whole idea, and my fellow writers – where will we be come late December?

What will the reading public think?

Here is a taster of the revised version of my draft:

‘The wind-swept sands of the lonely desert caked the bloodied sword – its notched steely blade shimmered in the blistering midday sun, clutched in the grip of a masked warrior. Dressed in splendid silk-robes, the boy was barely in his teens, yet destiny had brought him to the edge of the oasis, where he faced his greatest rival. Standing opposite the boy was a dark assassin of immense size – covered from head to toe in black fabric that clung to his brawny frame to reveal a hardened physique – the enemy was none other than the “Scorpion Monk”.’

Yes – my mentor approved of the opening lines, and my ego came alive – but it is still early days, and the workload continues to mount, but the joy of writing never truly fades, it just changes direction from time to time.

Well – there truly is no rest for the wicked, and new ideas and possibilities are swirling madly about my head, waiting to be written and revised.

Until I write again …

Jacquie McRae Puts a Dream into Action

Jacquie McRae
Jacquie McRae’s success in last year’s Pikihuia Awards motivated her to keep writing.

For me, the whole process of writing has been a long journey. I thought about writing this book eighteen years ago. Somehow, I got waylaid by life, but on the way, I kept adding to my dream: a writing correspondence course in 1994 (I only managed ten out of the fifteen assignments), one paper at varsity in 2000, a continuing education writers’ week in 2006 and a contemporary Māori writers’ paper in 2008.

I had a birthday that made me realise that if I didn’t commit to writing now and give it my all, it may always remain a dream. I read somewhere that a dream is just a dream, but if you add action, it can become reality. I quit my job at the school library, enrolled in an e-learning course for a year at Wairiki. My point in telling all this stuff is that when you focus on something, amazing things can happen.

My entry for the Pikihuia Awards in the middle of last year was chosen as a finalist. This was incredible feedback to get. Up until this point, I think most people presumed I was just dicking around, as my husband said, ‘Being a writer is the perfect job; no one can tell if you’re working or not.’

This past week, I have been working on my project. It’s called Behind the Varnish, but that may be up for review. Having a mentor on board is invaluable. I am incredibly lucky to have Renée. I get the sense that she will get the best out of me, even if she has to wring it out! Getting feedback on your writing from someone who has knowledge and doesn’t know you keeps it real. A mentor will question all sorts of things, and if I can justify why it is there, I get to keep it.

I have spent the week with all the characters I have in the book. I am amazed that I wrote several drafts of this book but failed to really know why the characters did what they did. If I didn’t know, then a reader is never going to work it out. I have to know what they eat, what they like to do, what their childhood was like – even if it never comes to light.

By knowing the characters more, it made the story change. I’m still not a hundred percent sure that I have the best possible storyline but will go with it for now. At Te Papa Tupu hui in Wellington, someone suggested reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is an amazing book about archetypes. I am only halfway through but can see that most writers would benefit from reading this.

Lastly, I would also like to say how grateful I am to be on Te Papa Tupu programme and to the sponsors, Māori Literature Trust, Huia Publishers, Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kōkiri. A lot of thought has gone into making this programme as supportive, nurturing and inspiring as possible. A day spent in like-minded company, meeting my mentor and having Huia Publishers (in the shape of Brian Bargh) cheering us on makes the daunting task ahead seem possible.

Larree Lust Ponders Purpose and Narration

The writing process.

Elation, anxiety, doubt, fear.

Larree Lust image
Larree Lust considers changing her storyteller

Despite which, I am looking forward to this journey over the next six months to finish an ongoing project: a draft of a novel that has been languishing. The support of Te Papa Tupu programme is an opportunity and a privilege to be involved with.

So, timelines, character lines, sketches, charts – the paint on my office wall is taking a beating.

And this journal is proving to be difficult. At least with a novel, the author can hide in the story; a journal seems far more transparent.

Excerpt from project: novel

Boys wait, bundled together into the large bedroom above the front verandah. They sit three to a bed, against the window sill, squat on the floor throwing dice, toss cards into corners, wage pennies, examine the dirt under their fingernails. Jokes fall on silence, as they swear at each under their breath. The once teasing, jovial, blithe voices subdued into apprehension. Sarah slips into the room, Hone barks at her to get back where she belongs.

They wait, until one at a time they are summoned down stairs to the TV lounge turned interview cell. Some slink, others strut, a few saunter. Hands in pockets, held tight to their sides, in fists, sweaty palms wiped on the sides of their jeans. They stand, are stood, answer yes and no to questions they probably do not understand, asked by imperious men in suits and white shirts with slack ties, before being sent back upstairs with strict instructions not to discuss, with anyone. They did not need to be told. What did they have to tell? They mutter under their breaths.

In the kitchen Iri bustles from the tea urn to slicing fruit cake and cutting the crusts from tomato sandwiches. She serves the men in the suits; the uniforms help themselves from the sideboard in the front hallway. Pap says for her to sit down, it’s not your fault; let the girls get the tea. But Iri keeps her hands busy, her eyes down; it’s what she does best.

Mark Sweet Wakes the Sleeping Zhu Mao

Brian Bargh of HUIA left a message. He asked I return his call. ‘It’s good news,’ he said. I went all goose pimply, and great gulps of excitement came tinged with fear.

Mark Sweet
Mark Sweet starts his writing journey in China with the draft novel Zhu Mao.

I began writing Zhu Mao three years ago at the start of the Diploma of Creative Writing course at Whitireia Polytechnic. When I applied, I submitted a short story, one of many, interconnected, which I wanted to shape into a novel. But the opportunity to write a new novel was too much, and Adrienne Jansen encouraged my fresh idea.

It was based around two experiences of traveling in China in the 1980s. One involved infanticide of baby girls, the other execution of criminals. The story grew and, at times, took on a life of its own. I spent a month in Wudangshan, the birthplace of t’ai chi, and found a setting for the story. I loved the process. In the end, I rushed to finish and was awarded a C+. I was gutted and let Zhu Mao sleep for two years.

During that time, I came to see my final assessment as fair. And I learned a big lesson. Anna Rogers was my mentor, and assessor, but I took scant heed of her opinion. Now, I see that all she told me was sound advice.

Late last year, I met the author Elspeth Sandys and asked her if she would critique my manuscript. She was encouraging but highlighted major problems with structure and genre; much the same as Anna.

I’d been dabbling at rewriting Zhu Mao for a few months, growing increasingly frustrated at my lack of editorial crafting skills, when my sister emailed about Te Papa Tupu incubator programme.

Being chosen for the programme is a gift for which I am deeply grateful. The opportunity to work with a mentor, and the means to concentrate on writing for six months, makes the completion of Zhu Mao an achievable goal.

My thanks to those in the Māori Literature Trust, Huia Publishers, Creative New Zealand, and Te Puni Kōkiri who have developed and promoted Te Papa Tupu.